These Walls: The Battle for Rikers Island and the Future of America's Jails
“A critical intervention in the high stakes debate about the social value of jails and what we could do instead to create safety and justice.” —Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing
In the tradition of Locking Up Our Own and The New Jim Crow, a rarely seen, thought-provoking journey into Rikers Island and the American justice system that “reframes the debate the country’s incarceration crisis, with a compelling focus on architecture as a path forward (Tony Messenger, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Profit and Punishment).
For nearly a century, the Rikers Island jail complex has stood on a 413-acre manmade island in the East River of New York. Today it is the largest correctional facility in the city, housing eight active jails and thousands of incarcerated individuals who have not yet been tried. It is also one of the most controversial and notorious jails in America.
Which is why, when mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2017 that Rikers would be closed within the next decade, replaced with four newly designed jails located within the city boroughs, the surface reaction seemed largely positive. Many were enthusiastic, including Eva Fedderly, a journalist focused on the intersections of social justice and design, who was covering the closure and its impact for Architectural Digest. But as Fedderly dug deeper and spoke to more people involved, she discovered that the consensus was hardly universal. Among architects tasked with redesigns that reconcile profits and progress, the members of law enforcement working to stop incarceration cycles in community hot spots, the reformers and abolitionists calling for change, and, most wrenchingly, the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people whose lives will be most affected, some agreed that closing Rikers was a step in the right direction, but many were quick to point out that Rikers was being replaced, not removed. On one point, however, there was firm agreement: whatever the outcome, the world would be watching.
Part on-the-ground reporting, part deep social and architectural history, These Walls is an eye-opening, “insightful…bracing look at how the nation’s jails—and the nation itself—ought to be reformed” (Kirkus Reviews) and a challenge to our long-held beliefs about what constitutes power and justice.
Praise for These Walls: The Battle for Rikers Island and the Future of America's Jails
“[An] absorbing debut… fascinating … our current system – expensive, dysfunctional, and biased as it is – has little to lose by considering innovative ways of ensuring public safety and justice for all.”
— Christian Science Monitor
“Eva Fedderly’s book These Walls adds one more voice to the growing understanding that it is a failure. The straightforward prose and personal stories here make the argument for reconsidering and ultimately replacing this approach to societal problems that result in crime one that is accessible to anyone with interest in the matter.”
“Journalist Fedderly centers this incisive debut exploration of mass incarceration. . . an accessible and thought-provoking study.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Insightful… Fedderly vividly catalogs some of the worst problems at Rikers: overcrowding, unsanitary environments, routine violence, rampant and unaddressed mental health problems, and extraordinarily long wait times before court dates…. [and] concludes convincingly that versions of restorative justice, the expansion of community policing, and broader efforts to reduce poverty and promote social equity are essential to making the penal system more just and humane. A bracing look at how the nation’s jails—and the nation itself—ought to be reformed.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Can America design its way out of a broken criminal justice system that feeds a daily crisis in city jails? Yes, says author Eva Fedderly, but only if we stop seeing 'abolition' as a four-letter word. These Walls reframes the debate around the country's incarceration crisis, with a compelling focus on architecture as a path forward.”
— Tony Messenger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Profit and Punishment
“An important book. . . This is a discussion we need to have and These Walls is a great introduction to the key issues. Readers will be better educated for the experience, whichever side they come down on.”
— Richard E. Wener, author of The Environmental Psychology of Prison and Jails
"Filled with key perspectives from those on the front lines of the ‘war on crime,’ Eva Fedderly’s These Walls is a critical intervention in the high stakes debate about the social value of jails and what we could do instead to create safety and justice."
— Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing
“Eva Fedderly’s deep commitment to confronting the complexities of criminal justice reform is evident on every page of this prismatic survey. Especially engaging is her visit to a cellblock in the nation’s first bona fide penitentiary, outside Philadelphia, as well as her look at attempts to design more humane prisons. The endemic problems of our penal system, Fedderly concludes, will not be resolved until we create a more socioeconomically equitable America.”
— David Friend, author of Watching the World Change and editor of creative development at Vanity Fair